We arrived in Delhi with one goal in mind – to make it to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is the famous ivory-white masoleum completed in 1653. Before arriving in India we did some research, consulted a lot of travel blogs, and crafted a plan for seeing the Taj Mahal. We would take the train to Agra in the morning (location of the Taj), see the Taj Mahal, stay the night in Agra, and take the train back to Delhi the next morning. Other travelers have had a good experience with trains in India and they are relatively safe when compared to driving the same route since the roads are not great in India (this news story a month before we arrived did not totally make us comfortable (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38041755), but we were ready for the adventure nonetheless! Side note: All of the good photos in this blog were taken by Scott and all the rest were taken by my phone 🙂
To Train or Not to Train and the Great Delhi Fog
The Indian train system is really confusing and tickets tend to sell out in advance…naturally even with this knowledge we did not plan ahead. The online ticketing system is the most frustrating thing we have ever used (props to Scott for trying so hard) and we ended up needing to make a visit to the Delhi Train Station either way. We ended up with round-trip tickets to Agra 3rd class for the next day. We would have liked to go 1st or 2nd class, but we are no divas! We started to do some thinking and more research…maybe we aren’t as adventurous as some of these travel bloggers. We aren’t total divas, but we also value our space, safety, and relative comfort. Maybe we made a mistake. As we started to backtrack, I also started to feel sicker by the minute. It was really terrible timing to come down with a virus. Our train tickets ended up going unused and we hired a driver to take us to Agra to see the sites and then drive us back to Delhi. I had read that this time of year there could be VERY dense fog and it can delay trains, planes, and cars. Of course I assumed that it would not be a problem for us.
Our driver picked us up at 6 am sharp. He told us the drive should take 2.5-4 hours depending on the fog. This was the first red flag, but I continued to think that the journey would be like any other. Around 30 minutes into our trip we experienced the dense, thick Delhi fog that occurs this time of year. It was terrifying. You could not see anything. All the cars put on their flashers to drive through, but you could only see about 5 feet in any direction. The fog was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I was ready to ask the driver to pull over and wait it out the next few hours, but he insisted that he did this all the time and reassured us that he knew was he was doing (our driver was awesome!). After 4 hours of intense anxiety (maybe I was the only one panicking, but that is besides the point) we had arrived in Agra and were at the Taj Mahal!
As we walked up to the Taj Mahal, it looked like a backdrop to a movie and it hardly looked real. Even with the hoards of people when we arrived it was really incredible. Entering the Taj Mahal was overwhelming so we were very thankful we had a guide to help us get tickets and navigate the security lines. There is a line for Indians and a line for foreigners — the foreigners line was much shorter than the line for Indians, but the tickets cost about 25 times more. This causes a bit of frustration among backpackers in India, but it is what it is. We did get to skip the line to get into the Taj Mahal that all of the Indians had to wait in, were given free shoe covers, and a free water bottle. The Indian tourists did not have any of these luxuries. It did make us feel a bit bad skipping the lines, but we did pay an outrageous amount in comparison to the Indian tourists.
Our guide told us that it was unusually crowded the day we went and there was people everywhere. If this trip has taught me anything it would be some serious patience. Also, our guide turned out to be a very enthusiastic Iphone photographer who would not let us leave without taking all of the perfect shots. At times he even told others to move out of the way so he could get the shot…it was a bit embarrassing, but I glad that we don’t have only a selfie (they just aren’t as good as a real photo).
We put on our shoe coverings to be able to actually walk into the Taj Mahal since no shoes are allowed. It was unexpected that for a building that looks so big from the outside that it is surprisingly small inside — it is basically just two tombs inside. That is all. Although it was not big it was awesome to walk inside and be able to look at all the details such as carvings and all of the white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.
In addition to the Taj Mahal, we also made it to the Agra Fort (which admittedly I had never heard of until we went). It is an amazing red sandstone fort built in 1573 and it is beautiful in an entirely different way. I am glad we made the stop here, but I was equally glad to be getting back on the road for Delhi. We arrived back at our hotel around 9 pm – it was a really long day.
The Taj Mahal was stunning. I am so grateful we had the opportunity to see it in person. I am also grateful we did not have to brave the Indian train system, especially while I was sick. Will I ever go back? Probably not. Some things should just be left at once in a lifetime and for me this is one of those things.